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The Pollinator Connection: Bee native

By Kristina Lefever for the Tidings December 31, 2019 ~

I was in Los Angeles for a few days recently -- how different it is from where we live! Different is an understatement, right?

Granted, my wandering consisted of a 15 minute Uber ride for a few (organic) items for my hotel refrigerator, but I saw enough to know that few places — and far between — provide support for native pollinators and birds in that huge metropolis. Maybe all the gardens are up with honey bee hives on rooftops?

I was quite happy to leave the City of Angels behind and return to our beautiful valley, with people who care about preserving our open spaces before they are gone. Because that’s the conundrum, is it not? People move to a place because of how it is ... and it ends up how it was. (I hope Ashland leaders and residents keep this in mind as we create the future for our beautiful town.)

Sadly, LA is no exception to what is happening all over this country.

You’ve heard of the “insect apocalypse?”

Both species and individuals of almost all insects have declined drastically over the past several decades as their habitat disappears. Bees, butterflies, moths and dung beetles are especially vulnerable, which also is impacting birds and other wildlife.

The good news is that many native bee species do well within urban environments and with non-native plants. OSU in Corvallis is conducting a number of studies about the species of bees found in urban backyards, as well as identifying favorite flowering plant species. Yes to California poppies!

The best news is that many Southern Oregonians are focusing on improving their small gardens and large acreages with native trees, shrubs, and perennial flowering plants that support native bees and other pollinator species, some of which we may not even recognize as pollinators.

Because, as the flower shape or color of a flower or leaf is “improved,” something else sometimes changes for the worse — maybe less nectar or pollen, or the leaf is no longer edible, or the flower no longer offers an invitation to visit. Did you know that scientists have discovered how bees, butterflies, and moths view flowers? Their color spectrum is not like ours at all.

I will be replacing a Diablo ninebark, a very hybridized native with, yes, beautiful burgundy-purple leaves. Ninebark provides much for our native pollinators - long-lasting flowers and it serves as a host plant for many butterflies and moths. But darker foliage contains more anthocyanins, a pigment that makes the leaf distasteful to feeding caterpillars. Which is great if you want a perfect plant — and no butterflies! What will I plant instead? Perhaps a Pacific ninebark! Or a coffeeberry! (Thankfully, this east coast study found some hybridizations, such as reduction in plant height, have little effect on pollinator preferences.)

In addition to homeowners, landowners, and businesses getting involved in creating pollinator friendly landscapes, ODOT is doing its part. Many thanks to our own Sen. Merkley for co-sponsoring the Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act of 2019 to establish a federal grant program for state departments of transportation and Native American tribes to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights-of-way. (We assume a reduction in herbicide use is part of the plan?) Listen to this podcast from OSU’s PolliNation to learn what is happening in other parts of Oregon — looking forward to a bee-autification of our stretch of I-5!

Can the Rogue Valley benefit pollinators with more pollinator plantings while reducing herbicide use on all our roadways? We appreciate the conversations we are having with our County Commissioners and Jackson County Roads about this very topic, and are pleased that we (Non Toxic Southern Oregon) received a copy of their Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management plan, and that an updated Owner Maintained Agreement will soon be available for people who live along county roads and do not wish to have their road frontage treated with herbicides.

I am thankful that our little corner of the world is working to increase the supply of native plants - thank you to the Rogue Native Plant Partnership, The Understory Initiative, Shooting Star Nursery, Plant Oregon, Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, Jackson County Master Gardeners, and local Garden Clubs!

Pollinator Project Rogue Valley is excited to be helping, by planting a dry, native pollinator garden in front of our office in Phoenix. If you have (native) plants to donate and/or time to contribute to this project, please let us know. Gratitude to the Ashland Food Co-op for our grant for soil amendments and plants, and to Kencairn Landscape for helping us create a landscape plan!

So as you plan your garden for the new year, why not give a gift to the pollinators — and everyone — with a native pollinator garden?

Kristina Lefever is a member of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley and Bee City USA Ashland, and a board member of Beyond Toxics. She may be reached at The Pollinator Connection appears quarterly.


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